Toxic Company Culture: 5 Ways to Fix It 

Toxic company culture can be very different to explain but actually very easy to identify once you are in one. 

When we began leading this company, we would always be greeted with a warm “Good morning!” by the receptionist. One day, however, we were greeted with a sneer instead. That was when we realized that our company had a toxic culture problem.

What changed? Why, all of a sudden we feel a hostile and toxic environment? 

Well, to understand what went wrong and explain how we fixed it, and even how we turned our situation into a good company culture, we first need to explore the company culture definition. 

If coworkers aren’t respectful to one another, if employees keep information to themselves for the sake of job security, if colleagues don’t trust those from other departments or trust each other, if team members are content doing only the necessary minimum, if there is little accountability, or if managers feel held back and limited by their staff – these are all signs of a toxic work environment.

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Company Culture Definition

Company culture is like the personality of a business. It’s the vibe you feel when you walk into the office, the way people interact with each other, and the values that drive the company forward. 

Think of it as the unwritten rules and shared beliefs that make a workplace unique. Whether it’s casual Fridays, taco Tuesdays, or an open-door policy, company culture shapes the day-to-day experience for employees and can even impact things like productivity and job satisfaction. 

Good VS Toxic Company Culture 

The importance of having a good company culture lies in how culture impacts the performance o the employees. It is like the opening line of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

Businesses are the same. In a healthy company, people feel valued and respected; they know where they are going, what they are doing, and what is expected of them. But dysfunction takes many forms.

Luckily since we know what creates a healthy and good company culture, we are here to share with you some clear ways to clean up a bad one.

Here are five ways to fix a toxic work environment and create a safe one.

Company Values to Eliminate Toxic Company Culture

Company values are the guiding principles that shape a business’s behavior and decision-making. They’re like the North Star for a company, helping everyone stay on track and work towards a common goal. These values can include things like honesty, innovation, teamwork, or customer satisfaction.

The first thing to create a good company culture is to define your company values and talk about them constantly. 

When a company has daily doses of rudeness, gossip, backstabbing, or any other cocktail of disrespect between, you know that company values are not at the forefront of employee’s minds.

If this is your case, change that. 

How to Change Toxic Behavior

To fix all the toxic out of your organization, you will have a meeting or make a video where you clarify what the values are and what they mean in the context of your company. 

Talk about them in the hiring process, give kudos, shout outs and awards when people exemplify the values and give feedback based on the failure to do so.

People who consistently do not act in accordance with the company values need to be shown the door.

The goal of the values is that people know what is expected of them. This way, they instinctively know how leadership would want them to act when they have to make a decision on the spot or when no one is looking. They know when other people are not working by the values and they feel empowered to call them out for their actions.  

When employees see everyone living by the values, it weeds out people who don’t buy into them. 

Create Clarity

A lot of dysfunction stems from a lack of clarity on where the company is going and how to get there.

Writing down processes, procedures and policies, and having a clear chart that explains what everyone does at the company and who they report to creates a calm environment. It also sets expectations and standards for success.

When people know what to expect and what is expected of them, they function at their best. When there is stress and chaos, even the most mature individuals exhibit their worst behavior. 

Clarity also creates an environment where no one can hoard information. Hoarding information is one way toxic employees gain power over others in ways leadership often doesn’t see. 

Clarity also makes it so people cannot hold leadership hostage. You know exactly what everyone does so you are not afraid to have hard conversations or hold people accountable.

Knowing that you are going to be okay if someone leaves because you’re organized and you know what tasks to allocate to someone else or that you could train someone else quickly gives you the confidence to enforce good behavior and your values. This confidence is paramount to fixing a bad company culture.

The Importance of Hard Conversations to Eliminate Toxic Company Culture

Toxicity is allowed to fester if problems are swept under the rug. Facing problems head-on professionally prevents dysfunction from being an undercurrent in your organization, contributing to a toxic work environment.

Avoiding conflict, hard conversations or holding people accountable because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t do your organization or employees any favors.

Putting off important decisions and actions creates an environment where people lose faith in the organization and nothing ever seems like it is going to change. It is important to make time and space to say hard things.

When you address problems head-on, you prevent that sneaky dysfunction from seeping into the fabric of your organization and turning it into a toxic environment. 

Doing this promotes a positive company culture where everyone can thrive, collaborate, and feel valued. It’s like taking out the trash, airing out the room, and bringing in some fresh air to create a happier, healthier, and more productive workspace for everyone involved.

Be clear and direct when people are not fulfilling their responsibilities or living up to the company values.

Being a Great Example Equals Good Company Culture

If you are a company leader, you have to lead by example. Period.

If you are condescending and blowing up at people regularly, then that behavior will trickle down to your team. They will treat customers and co-workers in kind. If you are late or don’t show up to scheduled meetings, that behavior will be seen as acceptable in your organization.

You’ve got to steer the crew in the right direction, and the best way to do that is by leading with actions, not just words. When you walk the talk, your team will follow suit, adopting the positive behaviors and attitudes you demonstrate. By showing up on time, treating everyone with respect, and striving for excellence, you set the bar high and inspire others to do the same.

If we cannot do something ourselves, asking others to do it is harder. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” We have to exemplify the behavior we want to see in our organizations. 

Write down the behavior you want to see at your organization and then ask yourself, ‘Am I a good example of these behaviors? Do I consistently model this for the team?”

Extreme Ownership

Everything that goes wrong at a company is ultimately the fault of the leader. At our company, if there is a problem, the buck stops with the leader. 

To give the best answer and avoid a toxic cultural environment, the questions we ask when a problem arises include the following:

  1. Is this a structural issue?
  2. Is the software not performing?
  3. Is the line of command not clear?
  4. Is it clear who is responsible?
  5. Did we build this process the right way?
  6. Is the procedure unclear?
  7. Is the trigger identified?
  8. Do the steps make sense?
  9. Are they in the right order?
  10. Is the hand off clear?
  11. Is there a training issue?
  12. Has the person responsible been trained appropriately?
  13. Is the training built into the onboarding process?
  14. Is it clear what is expected of them?
  15. Did I hire correctly for this seat?
  16. Are they capable of performing this task?
  17. Do they have the motivation to do this correctly?
  18. Is this the right person for the job?

When something goes wrong it is my fault and usually it falls into one of these categories.

If the process works, there is clarity, and the person is trained then it is time to hold the person accountable and if they cannot perform the task, ultimately, let them go.

Taking full responsibility for everything upstream is the first step in getting the culture to align with the company’s values and ultimate mission.

When leaders execute on these five actions, it is amazing how organizational culture can transform. You will witness problems or bad habits that previously seemed intractable disappear.

You will notice your team have more fun, relax and be more productive. Moving toward a positive company culture will help you move forward faster, eliminate employee turnover, retain top talent and improve revenue growth.

Final Thoughts to Avoid Toxic Company Culture

Fixing a toxic workplace culture requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses various factors contributing to a negative work environment.

By prioritizing work-life balance, addressing wage gaps, promoting employee engagement, providing a safe work environment, and training the leadership team and HR department, employers can create a positive workplace culture that benefits both employees and the company’s bottom line.

A toxic work culture can lead to high turnover rates, poor working conditions, and a negative work environment, but with concerted effort and commitment to change, it is possible to fix a toxic work culture and create a healthy and supportive workplace culture for team members.

Remember, a healthy workplace culture not only benefits the employees but also contributes to the success of the company. To get even more amazing tips, tricks, and techniques for scaling up your business, check out The Bootstrappers Podcast! Get the free advice you need to turn your vision into reality.

Ready to embrace your uniqueness, develop a resilient mindset, and turn your dreams into reality? Through disciplined execution and relentless, you can do it too! Contact Gwenn today